Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Marathon Dad Mike Rossi is Right, Handled Situation the Wrong Way

"What's Trending", that new staple of news broadcasts brought to my attention today a situation where a family took its kids out of school for a few days to watch father Mike Rossi compete in the Boston Marathon.

Upon returning from what Rossi describes to the school as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can’t be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book” the family received a letter from the school's principal Rochelle S. Marbury stating the absences would not be excused and that "an accumulation of unexcused absences can result in a referral to our attendance officer and a subsequent notice of a violation of the compulsory school attendance law."

Come on Ms. Marbury! Seriously let's talk big picture here, one that does not need to be clouded with threats of referrals to law enforcement.

Think about what a momentous experience watching Dad compete in one of the world's great events was for these children. It's something they will always have. Could anything happening in that Pennsylvania elementary school really be as special as what they experienced in Boston? Even if it was the greatest school on Earth, it's doubtful these kids would be taking away anything they'll remember as long as the memories they made.

We as educators work at the pleasure (or displeasure apparently) of families. These are not our kids. We are entrusted with a great responsibility but ultimately school is not the most important thing in their lives. Sadly for too many kids, school is the best thing they have going and we can never forget that either. It is great hubris though to operate with an air that life should bow to compulsory attendance. In the end all we really have are experiences and memories and if we are really here to do what is best for kids then we need to be supportive of that...especially an experience like this.

Rossi responded to the school with an eloquent 340 word response. Here are some highlights of his proposed response he put on Facebook. It is unclear though if he actually sent it to the school or just left it as a status update.

“While I appreciate your concern for our children’s education, I can promise you they learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school. Our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can’t be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book.”

“They watched their father overcome, injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal.”

“They also paid tribute to the victims of a senseless act of terrorism and learned that no matter what evil may occur, terrorists can not deter the American spirit. These are things they won’t ever truly learn in the classroom.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I do have a problem with this though. Mr. Rossi's response is fabulous but it should have been delivered to the school exclusively and not posted publicly on least not immediately. Everyone has the right to express themselves and write open letters but there are proper steps to take first

No matter how upsetting the school response might have been, opening up a civil, face-to-face dialogue with the school is what the Rossi's owe that to the district. I am sure the teachers and administrators at Abington Schools have given a lot to the members of the family over the years. This was a disagreement between parent and school and a private matter. Ms. Marbury deserves the opportunity to be included in a private conversation and not just roasted at the stake of social media.

If nothing else, maybe this will open up some civil discussion about looking at the tedious relationship between family-life and school. This case exemplifies how a little consideration on both sides could have benefitted everyone.

Today Show coverage
Inquistr article with links to full letter

Monday, April 27, 2015

Five Things In Education We Have To Stop Pretending

cory-matthews-make-it-stop-boy-meets-worldI was challenged this weekend to really think. Lisa Nowakowski, many of you know from her work with CUE Rock Star, listed  five things we have to stop pretending in education. and then she tagged five other educators including me to list five more things as part of the #makeschooldifferent challenge. Okay, here it goes.

Stop pretending:

1) We need more technology in schools.
Solution: We don't need more technology in schools. We need a better focus on how technology can improve teaching and learning. Start with great teaching and then ramp it off the charts by giving students tools to deepen their understanding, dig for more, and then share their knowledge or skills in authentic and impactful ways. Now, in areas where that vision and set of priorities is in place, bring on the technology! LA Unified Schools systemically lacked all of the above on their failed, massive iPad initiative and is now trying to blame Apple and Pearson. It's not the technology's fault for the shortcomings. Technology can have zero impact or worse without great teaching and know-how. It's like a chainsaw. Don't buy if you don't know what you're doing.

2) Technology use needs to redefine every task, providing experiences previously inconceivable.
Solution: I am a big proponent on the SAMR model of technology integration and have presented a number of times on it and its value. SAMR identifies at what level teachers apply technology. A major misinterpretation comes when people think the only good integration is the highest level of redefinition, or that what was previously inconceivable. Trevor Shaw wrote about some of that today in eSchoolNews. Nobody wants the iPad being used solely a $300 worksheet, but it's unrealistic to expect every tech use to earth shattering. Sharing documents via Google Docs might not be "redefinition" but it has huge inherent value over just typing something. We can't live in "redefinition". It's just not practical.

3) Teachers need to be trained in how to work new tech tools.
Solution: Teachers don't need to be trained how to push buttons, copy-paste, or export to Quicktime. What teachers need is to be immersed in an experience where they learn to put specific technology tools to work in their classrooms to boost teaching and learning. Too many presentations or workshops end up being magic shows with cool tricks but not much depth in how to make a difference. The learning needs to be continuous as well. For growth and sustainability to happen, co-workers need to be constantly helping each other by sharing little victories,  their tribulations, and ideas for better management.

4) Initiatives are like satellites. All they need is strong engineering and a solid launch.
Solution: Planning, design, and a great roll-out are essential to any initiative. The problem is that too many people think that after the launch the work is essentially done. Initiatives aren't satellites though. Initiatives are more like the cooking and serving of a seven course meal where the food needs constant attention, and the diners do too. How many things have you seen in your career rolled out with great energy go on to fizzle quite quickly because there was no follow up after the launch? If you're going to "set it and forget it," just forget it.

5) We are just teachers and only administration can bring meaningful change.
Solution: This one might be getting a little hacky because it seems like it has been stated emphatically in every keynote address I have attended in the last year but it can't be stated enough. A lot of real, positive, sustainable change in education comes from individual teachers or small groups of teachers who find things that work and they share those ideas. For whatever reason, co-workers often put more clout into something new they see or hear about from another teacher as opposed to it coming from an administrator. There is something powerful in knowing this technique, app, or strategy actually works in someone's actual classroom. Whatever works in your classroom needs to be shared. It's not bragging. It's moving education forward.

So, there you go. Those five have been begging to be shared. Thanks Lisa for lighting the fire!

Now it's time to pass the challenge along to five more great educators. Let's see what else we need to stop pretending. You are now officially on the clock Kelly Croy, Sue Gorman, Sean Junkins, Brad Wilson, and Ben Rimes.